The discovery of a common wombat in northern Victoria has scientists scratching their heads.
North Central Catchment Management Authority staff found the cute creature on Gunbower Island, on the Murray River.
Common wombats are found mostly in southern and eastern Victoria and eastern New South Wales.
Principal zoologist at the Arthur Rylah Institute Peter Menkhorst said the discovery was significant.
“It is unusual and unexpected. I can’t explain how it got there,” he said.
“There are no known populations of common wombats within 150km of the Gunbower Forest. The nearest sustainable population would be on the Strathbogie Ranges or in the Seymour area.
“Common wombat populations occur mostly on the Great Dividing Range and don’t spread out onto the plains.”
The only other confirmed sighting north of Bendigo has been at Elmore. There has also been an unconfirmed sighting at Axedale.
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North Central Catchment Management Authority project manager Adrian Martins said those sightings also raise questions.
“Is the Campaspe River acting as a wildlife corridor for common wombats?” he said.
Mr Menkhorst said that was as possibility.
“The most westerly population of wombats on the Great Dividing Range is around Trentham and Daylesford, where the Campaspe begins,” he said.
“However, there is a chance the animal has been moved from somewhere else. It is not uncommon for unlicensed people to raise a baby wombat, perhaps one they found in the pouch of a dead female on the side of the road.
“Once they get past a certain size, wombats can become difficult to manage and people put them back into the bush, but Gunbower is a very strange place for somebody to release a wombat.”
Common wombats are protected wildlife and it is illegal in Victoria for anyone to be in possession of a wombat without a licence. Wombats rehabilitated by authorised wildlife shelters must be returned to the area where they were found.
Anyone who finds a sick, injured or orphaned wombat can take it to their nearest vet or authorised wildlife shelter. For information on what to do if you do find sick, injured or orphaned wildlife, go to http://delwp.vic.gov.au/environment-and-wildlife/wildlife/wildlife-rehabilitation
To report a wombat sighting, go to www.womsat.org.au or visit the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas at https://vba.dse.vic.gov.au/vba/